SAAB 9000 REVIEW

The result of a collaboration with Fiat Group, the Saab 9000 was supposed to have been closely related to the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and Alfa Romeo 164. In the event, it shared very little with those cars, other than the Type 4 platform, thanks to multiple disagreements between their respective engineers. While those Italian cousins are now almost extinct, the 9000 survives in relatively high numbers because of a longer production span and much better sales.

VITAL STATISTICS

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK
The Saab 9000 was designed to cope with Sweden's harsh winters, so serious corrosion shouldn't be an issue. You do need to check for poorly repaired bodywork damaged though, so take a close look for evidence of rust or rippling on the nose, rear quarter panels, boot floor and front inner wings. Also check the front wheelarches - if the two-piece protective liners are missing, the paintwork will be damaged and rust is likely to have set in.

Because the 9000 was built to crumple in a crash, to protect its occupants, even a relatively minor impact can lead to structural damage. If there's evidence of ripples in the roof, just walk away - and the same goes if the doors are tight in their apertures. There are also some areas that may have corroded if the car hasn't been cherished. The roof sometimes rusts, especially if there's a factory-fitted sliding sunroof and if there's significant rot here, repairs will cost more than the car's worth.

The lower trailing edge of the front and rear doors can also look scabby, rot caused by the drain holes getting blocked and the doors filling up with water. Repairs are possible, but fitting replacement doors can be easier - although those for facelifted 9000s (from 1992) are subtly different from earlier ones. The reflective 'tailblazer' rear panel loos dated now, but it was of its time. Where earlier 9000s are concerned, these fade and crack with age, and decent replacements are scarce.

ENGINES
There were three petrol engines available: 2.0- or 2.3-litre 16-valve four-cylinder units, or a 3.0-litre V6. There were no diesels and the four-cylinder engines came in normally aspirated or turbocharged guises; the V6 was non-turbo only. The four-cylinder engines have a timing chain; from 1990, the 2.3-litre unit also uses this to drive the balancer shafts. The chain sometimes needs to be replaced at 70,000-100,000 miles, but will last over 200,000 miles with regular oil changes. Expect to pay £900 to have the work done (a DIT kit costs £190), but it will mean removing the engine. Fresh fully-synthetic oil every 6000 miles will reduce the need for chain replacement.

The V6s have a cambelt instead of a chain, which should be replaced every six years or 60,000 miles. Being an interference fit, if the belt breaks, the engine will be wrecked; a specialist should charge £250 or so to replace the cambelt.

Another weakness is head gasket failure on the four-cylinder engines, given away by the unit running on three cylinders when cold - also check for a mayonnaise-like substance on the underside of the oil filter cap. A specialist will charge about £400 to replace the gasket. Don't leave it.

On four-cylinder cars, check that the exhaust manifold studs are intact. They become brittle then snap, and replacing them is a nightmare. Whatever engine is fitted, check the hydraulic engine mounts, which eventually fail.

Cars with traction control can suffer from uneven idling, thanks to failure of the system's ECU. If another is substituted, it needs to be programmed to work, and with both new and used parts in short supply, you can't assume the problem is fixable by anybody other than a well-equipped Saab specialist. A tatty 9000 with a duff traction control ECU may be beyond economical repair. With Turbos and later 2.3i models, misfiring is probably down to the direct ignition (DI) unit failing. The DI unit replaces the distributor. New ones cost £270, with V6s having two. Don't be tempted to fit reconditioned items because they tend to fail within months. Also, replacing the spark plugs on a V6 is a nightmare because of poor access, so if this engine is fitted it may just need some fresh plugs if it's running badly.

TRANSMISSIONS

Generally, 9000 buyers got a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed ZF automatic transmissions. The former is pretty much bomb-proof, although post-1994 cars can give trouble with reverse gear selection. The auto-boxes are also pretty tough, but they wear out after 150,000 miles or so - even if the fluid and filter have been changed religiously every 24,000 miles, as per Saab's schedule.

When a rebuild is due, the ratio changes become snatchy, so take an extended test drive, let everything get warm, and make sure all is smooth. You can buy a decent secondhand auto-box for £350-400 and you can expect to pay the same again to have it fitted. The alternative is to get the gearbox rebuilt; expect to pay £1400 to have the work done by a reputable specalist. If buying an automatic, also check the transmission's oil cooler pipes for corrosion - a new set costs £120.

On manual-box 9000s, make sure the clutch isn't slipping, as replacement is involved and therefore costly - about £600, including the clutch slave cylinder, which is inside the gearbox itself. As a result, if the slave cylinder is leaking, replacement of that on its own isn't straightforward.

Until 1994, the manual's shift quality was pretty rubbish, but later cars are much better. However, by now, gear selection issues are likely because the Metalastik bush in the selector rod or the gearbox mounting bushes will have disintegrated. New ones are available, in rubber or polyurethane - they're cheap, and reasonably easy to fit.

STEERING & SUSPENSION

All 9000s were fitted with power steering, and while the system is reliable, the hoses can leak because of loose clips; you need to check for leaks in the offside front inner wing. The racks themselves seem to last forever though. The suspension is also very reliable. Springs and dampers rarely need replacing but track rod ends and the front suspension balljoints wear eventually. New ones are just £15 apiece, and replacing them is an easy half-hour job.

WHEELS & BRAKES

Some 9000s came on steel wheels, but most survivors have alloys. Standard cars got 15in rims while the Aero got 16in items. All these alloys corrode but they don't go porous, they're freely available (although Carlsson rims are rarer) and they're all interchangeable with each other, too. The brakes are conventional, with all cars getting discs all round and anti-lock technology. Everything is available and problems are rare; it's worth checking for perished hoses, corroded pipes and an ABS light that stays on. In the case of the latter, it's probably down to a faulty wheel sensor. New ones cost £160.

TRIM & ELECTRICS

While top-spec 9000s came with hide trim, cloth is fitted to many examples. Whatever is fitted, it'll be hard-wearing. Indeed, the 9000's cabin is so durable that it's a clocker's dream. Most surviving 9000s are very well equipped, with plenty of gadgets. Items such as electric mirror and seat adjustment motors can go on the blink, but they are usually pretty reliable.

Another potential issue is the heater blower, which sometimes works only on full speed because of its resistor block failing, but replacing this is a half-hour job. The heater matrix can also leak. New ones cost £110 and replacement is fiddly, but it's a DIY proposition. Check that the heated seats work, as the wires in the seat pad break. Again, DIY repairs are possible but fiddly. Finally, ensure the ignition switch works, because the contacts can go on the blink. Replacement is straightforward, with new switches costing £69.
 

OUR VERDICT

Of the Type 4 shared-platform cars, the Saab 9000 was the longest-lived of all, but despite production spanning 13 years, and with 503,000 examples produced, this luxobarge is already in the shadows.

Early 9000s are now rare. Most of the cars available are from the last three years of production, which means you'll probably end up with a turbocharged model.

Other rarities include saloons and V6s, but the hatch offers better practicality and the four-pot engines have plenty of muscle - especially the turbocharged 2.3-litre unit.

There are still low-mileage truly cherished cars about, and if you don't mind spending £5000 you could secure a really nice Aero or Carlsson - one of the most usable Q-cars ever created. 

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